Sunday, January 29, 2006

Hockey Night at the Old Boys Club

Hockey is pretty much the only thing I will watch on t.v., other than, sometimes, the news. Oh, and of course, elections. I have been known to watch hockey for 12 consecutive hours. Hey, it’s my Saturday, I’ll do what I want! Let’s just say it is something in which I take delight.

I certainly don’t watch hockey for intellectual stimulation—the way the Leafs have been playing, there is not much dumber out there to watch—but, being an intellectually-minded guy, I like to listen to the commentary between periods. I find Don Cherry entertaining (some do not—feel free to vent in the comments section), but I find the guys on the “Satellite Hot Stove” to be, for the most part, complete idiots. And Ron MacLean, sorry buddy, but you only make things worse.

By the second intermission of the Leaf game (Ottawa and Habs fans, I don’t want to hear your whining about how it is always a Leaf game. I’m not listening! Lalalalala!), if my vision hasn’t blurred from Aki-Berg-induced tears (poor guy, he’s done all right lately, until the injury), I am often enticed to blind rage by fools like John Davidson, Eric Duhatschek, and Jacques Demers. Sometimes, an intelligent commentator like Stephen Brunt makes an appearance, (and Pierre Lebrun seems ok, too), but this Saturday night, the aforementioned three just about made me lose my temper. I have a very well-placed temper.

The first thing that got to me (bear in mind, this is all relative—it’s only hockey, I realise, but let’s just work within the paradigm here) was Demers’ comment that Christobal Huet, the Habs back-up goalie, had not yet proven he was a “number one goalie.” Ok, Demers is not the first to utter this inanity. Would somebody please tell me what it takes to “prove yourself” as a number one goalie? Do you have to be involved in loan sharking? Be enough of a prima donna to refuse to leave the net after you’ve let in 5 goals in one period? Actually the answer is that you have to be overpaid, and you have to under perform.

Peter Budaj (who I have slagged before, but won’t anymore, lest his sister get to me!) is the “back-up” goalie in Colorado. Both his goals against average (2.73) and his save percentage (.901) are much better than that of the supposed number one, David Aebischer (3.17 and .894). Ok, you say, maybe Aebischer is not yet a proven number one, either. Well, how about Eddie Belfour (3.45, .887)? Those numbers are horrific compared to Toronto’s “back-up” Mikael Tellqvist (2.79, .906).

Tellqvist has played enough games that one might reasonable expect those stats to remain constant. How about the case in question: Jose Theodore (3.36, .885) vs. Christobal Huet (2.88, .915)? Huet has played in ten games for the Habs this year, and played half of the games in LA last year, with similar numbers. Why has he "yet to prove himself"?

The other topic on the “hotstove” was that of Scott Niedermayer’s knee injury. The big question was should he play in the Olympics and risk his career, or have surgery and save himself for his team, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. To a man, the hotstovers agreed that he owed it to his club team, who are paying him millions of dollars, to make sure he was healthy for them.

Now, I know that hockey is a business, just like any other, and Scott Niedermayer is lucky enough to already have an Olympic gold medal, but if it were me, and I had the millions Scott probably has stashed away from being the best defenseman in the NHL, I would probably want to play in the Olympics. Then again, if he really loves playing hockey, the smart thing to do would be to have surgery and get healthy for next year. But he should do it because he loves playing, not because he “owes” anything to his team. He brings them revenue. He’s got to think of himself first—if he wants to play in the Olympics, he should. If he doesn’t want to risk his career, then he should get surgery.

Finally, it was Ron MacLean, in his segment with Cherry (I forget if it was Coach’s Corner, or post-game), defending the linesman for not preventing Aaron Downey’s broken face, that got me hot. Now, if you get in a fight with Zdeno Chara, you might end up in with a few broken faces, but Don Cherry’s point, that the linesman needs to tie up the fighters’ punching arms first, is still valid. I am not one of those who thinks Don Cherry is a great Canadian intellectual, but neither do I think he is a stupid man. He knows hockey pretty well. Part of the official’s job is to stop fights. Knowing what hand to tie up first is something he needs to know.

MacLean’s excusing the linesman for not doing that is lame. It is a circling of the wagons (MacLean is an official, too), and makes professional hockey (or maybe the entire sport of hockey) look like an old boys club, where one’s value is based on who one is, rather than how good they are at their job. The same is true of that infernal “hotstove.” Davidson and Demers are on there because they are “insiders,” not because they are intelligent hockey minds. Last week Murray Wilson, from the Habs radio broadcast was on. He is another guy who seems to have grown up on a cliché farm--he had absolutely nothing of substance to add to the discussion. At least Don Cherry, who is, at times, more than anyone, all about the code, is not afraid to say the unpopular thing.

Maybe I’ve just exerted too much mental energy over something meaningless. After all, I usually fall asleep half-way through the Vancouver game, which is usually much more exciting than the Leaf game (apparently last night I slept through a power outage. Who knew?). When I am awake, delighting in squinting at fuzzy black and white images of hockey players (and Leafs), I’d just like to not be annoyed by the talking heads. Maybe the problem with the talking heads is that they’ve got all the rest of their organs squished in there, and there is no room for the brain.


At 7:12 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

Hey John,

Hope you come back to the blog soon so that I can reply to some more recent posts.

But about the Chara fight: it was with Raitis Ivanans, not Aaron Downey. And I think it was pretty dirty of Chara to sucker punch Ivanans after the latter had been tied up and pinned down by an official. But maybe I'm just a homer, as they say.

Watching the Olympic hockey games reminds me of the last time, when most of our class put seminars and theses aside to watch the double gold performance. Good times. Hope they can repeat this year, but it won't be easy if they can't get past the likes of Switzerland (Hab Mark Streit aside, of course).


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